Wednesday, December 12, 2007

SCOTUS on Gall and Kimbrough

Link here to more good stuff from Berman on the Gall and Kimbrough decisions. Additional commentary from SCOTUSBLOG.

Here's Justice Ginsburg in Kimbrough: We hold that, under Booker, the cocaine Guidelines, like all other Guidelines, are advisory only, and that the Court of Appeals erred in holding the crack/powder disparity effectively mandatory. A district judge must include the Guidelines range in the array of factors warranting consideration. The judge may determine, however, that, in the particular case, a within- Guidelines sentence is “greater than necessary” to serve the objectives of sentencing. 18 U. S. C. §3553(a) (2000 ed. and Supp. V). In making that determination, the judge may consider the disparity between the Guidelines’ treatment of crack and powder cocaine offenses.

And Justice Stevens in Gall: We now hold that, while the extent of the difference between a particular sentence and the recommended Guidelines range is surely relevant, courts of appeals must review all sentences — whether inside, just outside, or significantly outside the Guidelines range — under a deferential abuse-of-discretion standard. We also hold that the sentence imposed by the experienced District Judge in this case was reasonable.

Watson case was also decided today (Dec. 10) by the Supreme Court. Again from Doc Berman, "Here's the basics from SCOTUSblog:

In the last of three rulings on Monday, the Court decided unanimously that one does not “use” a gun, for purposes of imposing a mandatory five-year sentence, if the person receives the gun in a trade for drugs. Justice David H. Souter wrote the opinion in Watson v. U.S. (06-571).

The opinion in Watson (06-571) is here, and this ruling (along with Gall and Kimbrough) reinforce my view that the US Supreme Court is right now the most pro-defendant appellate court on criminal sentencing issues in the nation. Whatever one thinks about the Court's purported moves to the right on other issues, in the arena of criminal sentencing, federal defendants certainly should be more hopeful arguing before the current Justices than before any other group of appellate judges.

Crack Cocaine Sentencing

Here is the Sentencing Commission official press release concerning decision to make new crack cocaine sentencing guidelines retroactive. HT: Doc Berman

And here is a very interesting excerpt, including many stats on "Re-entry," from US News and World Report (Alex Kingsbury, reporting). Ka Shing, more thanks to the analysis from Doc.
Though not quite stated in these terms, some of the debate over the retroactivity of the new crack amendments is really a debate about whether the offenders that might benefit from the reduced sentences are prepared to re-enter the community and become productive citizens. Against this backdrop, this new article about reentry realities in US News & World Report is a must read. Here are some highlights:

Getting cons to stay ex-cons has long been one of the most vexing challenges of the criminal justice system. One out of every 31 American adults is in jail, on parole, or on probation, and the central reality is this: Nearly everyone who enters the prison system eventually gets out.

The problem is, most of those ex-offenders quickly find themselves back inside. Today, ending the cycle of recidivism has become an increasingly urgent problem as communities nationwide are forced to absorb record numbers of prisoners who also often struggle with addiction and other illness.

There are more than 1.5 million people in state or federal prison for serious offenses and 750,000 others in jail for more minor crimes. Prison populations have swelled since the early 1970s, and now offenders are returning to their neighborhoods at a rate of more than 1,400 per day. In 1994, nearly 457,000 prisoners were released from state and federal custody, and in 2005, almost 699,000 prisoners were released. That is the largest single exodus of ex-convicts in American history....

The process of coordinated prisoner reintegration is now known as "re-entry," rather than rehabilitation or release. Whereas rehabilitation assumed that individuals could change on their own, re-entry focuses on educating employers and communities about how they can help the offender on the outside. It aims to break though the red tape that has historically delayed social services for felons and to prevent the snags — like drug treatment programs that reject offenders who have been clean only a short time — that keep them from making a healthy return to society.

In practice, that means synchronizing many different social and correctional services while offenders are still inmates and continuing that assistance after their release. Re-entry programs don't necessarily require more funding, just better coordination of existing resources like job training and stable housing. "Rehab is focused on the individual offender; re-entry is about communities, families, children, coworkers, and neighbors," says Amy Solomon, a criminal justice researcher at the Urban Institute.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Moratorium Continues

Doug also says: As detailed in this SCOTUSblog post, the Justices continue to block every state effort to go forward with lethal injections. Here's the basics:

The Supreme Court on Wednesday afternoon delayed the execution of Thomas D. Arthur, previously scheduled for 6 p.m. on Thursday. Arthur has a petition pending (Arthur v. Allen, 07-395) challenging the state’s use of a lethal injection protocol to carry out executions.... The Court in recent weeks has not permitted any execution to proceed when the inmate has sought a stay while challenging lethal injection. It is scheduled to hold a hearing on such challenges on Jan. 7 at 10 a.m.

Growth is Not Good

From Doc Berman, these statistics come home for the holidays:

Among many holiday season traditions for sentencing fans is the release by the Bureau of Justice Statistics of its national head count of the number of persons in State and Federal prisons, and the number of persons on probation and parole, at yearend the prior year. Here are links to these data-filled reports:

Here are some of the statistical highlights from this press release discussing both reports:

The U.S. adult correctional population — incarcerated or in the community — reached 7.2 million men and women, an increase of 159,500 during the year, the Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS) announced today in a new report. About 3.2 percent of the U.S. adult population, or 1 in every 31 adults, was in the nation’s prisons or jails or on probation or parole at the end of 2006.

The number of men and women who were being supervised on probation or parole in the United States at year-end 2006 reached 5 million for the first time, an increase of 87,852 (or 1.8 percent) during the year. A separate study found that on December 31, 2006, there were 1,570,861 inmates under state and federal jurisdiction, an increase of 42,932 (or 2.8 percent) in 2006.

During 2006 the number of inmates under state jurisdiction rose by 37,504 (2.8 percent). The number of prisoners under federal jurisdiction rose by 5,428 (2.9 percent).

In 2006 the number of prisoners in the 10 states with the largest prison populations increased by 3.2 percent, which was more than three times the average annual growth rate (0.9 percent) in these states from 2000 through 2005. These states accounted for 65 percent of the overall increase in the U.S. prison population during 2006. The federal system remained the largest prison system with 193,046 inmates under its jurisdiction.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Retroactivity and Crack, Jack

Crack, Retroactivity and Hilary are the topic of this good post by Doc Berman, with additional good sources on this technical, but political, subject.

Iraq, America and Future Insanity

Senator Schumer and other Democrats on the Joint Economic Committee have been trying (not very successfully, so far) to get other policy makers and the public at large to focus on the sheer insanity of pumping hundreds of billions — if not trillions — of public dollars into a failed venture with no end even remotely in view.

There are myriad better ways to use the many millions of dollars that the U.S. spends on Iraq every day. Two important long-term investments that come to mind — and that would put large numbers of Americans to work — are the development of a serious strategy for achieving energy independence over the next several years and the creation of a large-scale program for rebuilding the aging American infrastructure.

New York Times (Herbert)

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

A Bit of History

Here, we have the foreblawgers. HT: How Appealing

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Why The Confession? Come to Papa

Check out this case, a rare instance in which the Government is actually caught red-handed obtaining a false confession. How many other confessions are false, but cannot be proven to be false? If the pilot had never inquired about his tranceiver Higazy would still be in jail. HT: How Appealing.

Here is the final ruling, which Howard Bashman points out is controversial due to fact that the court sought to restrict access to the original ruling. Curiouser and Curiouser.

Monday, November 26, 2007

DNA Releases Another Innocent Prisoner

Here is a link to a story of exoneree in New York, Jeffrey Deskovic, released last year, incarcerated since he was sixteen. I feel his pain.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Ball's Blue?

This certainly looks interesting!
Happy Turkey Day, y'all. (HT Grits)

As does this, Holiday Reading, thanks to Doc Berman:

American Buffalo: Vanishing Acquittals and the Gradual Extinction of the Federal Criminal Trial Lawyer
by Frank O. Bowman III

Abstract: This essay is an invited response to Professor Ronald Wright's impressive study of the fact that the acquittal rate in federal criminal trials is declining even faster than the rate of trials themselves, Trial Distortion and the End of Innocence in Federal Criminal Justice, 154 U. PA. L. REV. 79 (2005). The essay concurs with Professor Wright's conclusion that one significant factor driving down both federal trial and acquittal rates is the government's use of the markedly increased bargaining leverage afforded to prosecutors by the post-1987 federal sentencing system consisting of the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines interacting with various statutory mandatory minimum penalties. It offers some additional evidence in the form of statistical data and personal experience supporting that conclusion.

However, the essay goes on to wonder whether Professor Wright's proposed explanations for the disproportionate decline in federal acquittal rates capture the whole story. It suggests that part of the explanation for both the continuing decline of trials and the disproportionate decline in acquittals may be the gradual extinction of true trial lawyers, particularly in U.S. Attorney's Offices. The essay concludes by expressing concern that the decline of trial lawyers may be having deleterious affects on the justice system as a whole.

And this, also reported widely already:

As detailed in this AP report, "Georgia's top court overturned a state law Wednesday that banned registered sex offenders from living within 1,000 feet of schools, churches and other areas where children congregate." Though the outcome itself is noteworthy, the legal theory behind the ruling in Mann v. Dept. of Corrections (available here) is particularly interesting and could garner US Supreme Court attention: the court finds a takings problem with the law. Here is a key paragraph from the ruling:

Looking to the magnitude and character of the burden OCGA § 42-1- 15 imposes on the property rights of registered sex offenders and how that burden is distributed among property owners, Lingle, supra, 544 U.S. at 542; see also Mann, supra, we conclude that, under the circumstances present here, justice requires that the burden of safeguarding minors from encounters with registered sexual offenders must be "spread among taxpayers through the payment of compensation." Lingle, supra at 543. We therefore find that OCGA § 42-1-15 (a) is unconstitutional because it permits the regulatory taking of appellant's property without just and adequate compensation. Accordingly, we reverse the trial court's ruling denying appellant's request for declaratory relief in regard to the residency restriction.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

That's Grits

From Grits,

Sign Our Judicial Complaint Against Judge Sharon Keller

If you are as shocked as we were by Judge Sharon Keller saying "We close at 5" and refusing to accept an appeal 20 minutes after 5 PM by lawyers representing a man about to be executed, then sign on to this complaint. We will submit this complaint to the State Commission on Judicial Conduct on November 16, 2007, which is also the day we will have a protest at the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals at 4:45pm. Anyone can sign the complaint. In order for your name to count on the complaint for the submission, you must provide all the requested contact information, including your phone number and occupation. If you would like to download a copy of the complaint for your records, click here.

If you would like to help us with a donation, please click the button to the left or send a check made out to Texas Moratorium Network to 3616 Far West Blvd, Suite 117, Box 251, Austin, Texas 78731. Donations are not tax-deductible. If you have questions, please call 512-302-6715.


The January Calendar is here (thanks SCOTUS blog!)
Seven of the twelve so far scheduled are clearly criminal law cases, including the lethal injection case.

Here is a link to the Fourth Amendment case: the State High Court was right on this one. If the states refuse to provide a remedy for a violation of state law, law that is "within the scope or reach" of the constitution, then they must be held to it. The states should not re-write the fourth amendment and then fail to enforce their own revision.

The Gitmo Detainee Cases march on: here is link to reply briefs.

The fallout from Carey v Musladin is beginning to hit the ground, as seen here, in a brief in opposition to certiorari, involving defendant's habeas relief under either Cronic or Strickland. The brief does an exceptional job of clarifying the notion of "clearly established law"... as well as the distinctions among Hill, Cronic, Strickland lines of ineffectiveness of assistance of counsel claims.

Finally, here's one for the Crow's Nest. GPS Tracking could-go-all-the-way-

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Wild Guesses -- Riding Bareback

Two models of the presidency are at odds, one whose founding father was George Washington, the other whose founding father was Richard Nixon. Under the aegis of Dick Cheney, who considered the scandal in Watergate to be a political trick to topple Nixon, the original vision has been entrenched and extended. Cheney is the pluperfect staff man, beginning as Donald Rumsfeld's assistant in the Nixon White House, and was aptly code-named "Backseat" by the Secret Service when he pulled the strings in the Ford White House as chief of staff. For Cheney and the president under his tutelage, eagerly acting as "The Decider" on decision memos carefully packaged by "Backseat," the Constitution is a defective instrument remedied by unlimited executive power.

Who wrote this?

Where was it published?

Hint: (Sidney Blumenthal is joining the Hillary Clinton campaign as a senior advisor, and this is his last column for Salon.)

Update -- More good stuff here:
In ways that Nixon did not achieve, Bush has reduced the entire presidency and its functions to the commander in chief in wartime. And in order to sustain this role he has projected a never-ending war against a distant, faceless foe, ubiquitous and lethal. Fear and panic became the chief motifs substituting for democratic persuasion to engineer the consent of the governed, and here

So vital is torture to the imperial presidency that Bush staked the nomination of his new attorney general, Michael Mukasey, on his refusal to oppose a ritual designed during the Spanish Inquisition to purge sinful heresy: waterboarding. Were Mukasey to have called waterboarding torture, as it surely is, he would have been obligated to prosecute those responsible for war crimes. also here,

On Oct. 25, Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois received written responses from Mukasey to questions he had submitted. In one question, Durbin asked about a report that Mukasey had met with unnamed conservative figures to discuss his legal views and allay any misgivings they might have.

The list of names extracted from Mukasey by Durbin passed by unnoticed in the controversy. Mukasey revealed that on order of "officials within the White House" he sat down with six prominent right-wing leaders, whose gathering constituted a de facto subcommittee of the "Inner Party" of the conservative movement. Those present were Reagan's attorney general, Edwin Meese III; former Reagan and Bush I legal officials Lee Casey and David Rivkin; the executive vice president of the Federalist Society, Leonard Leo; the president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center, Edward Whelan; and the chief counsel for the American Center for Law and Justice (founded by Pat Robertson), Jay Sekulow.

Mukasey's meeting with this group at the insistence of the White House amounted to a supra-official confirmation hearing. The incident demonstrates that the Bush imperial presidency is a central tenet of the permanent elite of the party extending beyond his administration. Politicizing paranoia, subsuming intelligence by ideology, purging and deputizing prosecutors, dismissing law by fiat (signing statements) and holding in contempt checks and balances are not temporary measures. It is no accident, as the Marxists (or neoconservatives) say, that President Bush will address the 25th anniversary gala of the Federalist Society on Thursday.

and finally,

Now, on a personal note, I have reached the end of my critique of the Bush administration, having elaborated it for years. (In fact, my book on "The Strange Death of Republican America" will be published in April 2008.) As events continue to unfold there will undoubtedly be many more things to say about Bush, Cheney, their administration and the Republican field. But given the momentous stakes, I have decided that nothing is more important than committing myself wholly to the outcome. Therefore, beginning here, the tone changes.

Readers know of my background in the Clinton White House. (See "The Clinton Wars.") They are familiar with my long friendship with Sen. Hillary Clinton. When she recently asked me to join her campaign as senior advisor I felt I must accept, though not out of obligation but, rather, wholeheartedly. There will be other times and places for me to explain how I have seen her grow into the person I now feel is best qualified and suited to restore the presidency, an office I observed and participated in for four years and about whose nature, I know from working closely with her, she has a deep grasp.

I believe that the reason the Republicans have promoted the talking point that Hillary is unelectable is that they fear that more than any other candidate she can create a majority coalition, win and govern. They fear more than loss in one election; they fear the end of the Republican era beginning with Nixon. They know that she has the knowledge, skill and ability to govern. They know that she has already taken everything they can throw against her and is still standing.

Just as the disintegration of the Democrats brought about the rise of the Republicans, the collapse of the Republicans has created an opening for the Democrats. But the Democrats have been victims of their own false euphoria, sanctimony and illusions before. Now, only the Democrats can revive the Republicans. Nixon, Reagan and Bush were all beneficiaries of Democratic disarray and strategic incompetence. The Democrats have snatched defeat from the jaws of victory before and it can happen again, even under these circumstances, when history is turning the Democrats' way.

The Democrats at key junctures have been seduced by the illusion of anti-politics to their own detriment. Anti-politics upholds a self-righteous ideal of purity that somehow political conflict can be transcended on angels' wings. The consequences on the right of an assumption of moral superiority and hubris are apparent. Their plight stands as a cautionary tale, but not only as an object lesson for them. Still, the Republican will to power remains ferocious. The hard struggle will require the most capable political leadership, willing to undertake the most difficult tasks, and grace under pressure.

Monday, November 12, 2007

More on Moratorium on DP

Here is a good link to discussions about the recent developments in SCOTUS and the death penalty.

Re: Thinking Age of Consent

Food for thought here:
If nothing else, the article points out how the sex offender laws are netting individuals who have not traditionally been thought engaged in criminal behavior.


And here, about how the laws are ineffective.

Also here, describing how the "worst of the worst" fare in Virginia.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

"quis custodiet ipsos custodes?"

- "Who will guard the guards?" wrote the Roman poet Juvenal. Citing numlerous instances of CEO robbing the public coffers with huge payoffs to self after losing billions of shareholder $$$, so also asks William Lerach, Plaintiff's lawyer and shareholder advocate, here, as he prepares to go to jail to serve a one year sentence for boldly stepping over the line in his advocacy, as he put it:
in my zeal to stand up against this kind of corporate greed over the years, I stepped over the line. It turns out that the legal system is a lot tougher on shareholder lawyers than it appears to be on Wall Street executives.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Criminal Justice Reform Could Go All The Way


Policy & Media Briefing on Release of Unlocking America
November 19, 9:30-11a.m.
National Press Club, 529 14th Street, NW
13th Floor, Washington, D.C.
Moderated discussion with nationally syndicated columnist
Clarence Page. Panelists to include:

  • James Austin, President, JFA Institute
  • Devon Brown, Director, Washington, D.C. Department of Corrections
  • Marc Mauer, Executive Director, The Sentencing Project
  • Dr. Fred Osher, Director, Center for Behavioral Health, Justice, & Public Policy, University of Maryland
  • Dr. Michael Pinard, University of Maryland, School of Law
  • Christy Visher, Research Associate, Urban Institute

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Catching Up to Child Porn in Scotus

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court appeared open Tuesday (10/30) to arguments that a law intended to criminalize the advertising of purported child pornography is constitutional and would not cover promotions of Lolita and American Beauty, as challengers say.

The 2003 law arises from Congress' effort to staunch the demand for child pornography and save the children exploited in the creation of the illegal materials. It makes it a crime — punishable by at least five years in prison — to advertise, promote or solicit materials purported to depict children engaging in sex acts.

A federal appeals court last year struck down the ban as overly broad in violation of the First Amendment free-speech guarantee. The court said the law could cover fake or non-existent porn offerings.

A lawyer for Michael Williams, a Florida man convicted under the law, says it could threaten the marketing of movies depicting adolescent sex. The National Coalition Against Censorship and other free-speech groups are backing him.

The Justice Department counters that the law targets solicitations that fuel the child porn market and would not cover ads about mainstream movies.

As the justices pummeled both sides with questions, they seemed torn on the reach of the law. Overall, the comments, particularly from swing-vote Justice Anthony Kennedy, suggested they may reverse the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit and uphold the law.

By Joan Biskupic

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Baze: Is Three Drug Cocktail Unconstitutional?

Here's how the New York Times has put the question:

The central question of Baze is: Does the Eighth Amendment bar an execution method that creates an unnecessary risk of pain and suffering, or does it merely protect inmates against the wanton infliction of pain and suffering?

If it’s the former, then the three-drug cocktail is probably unconstitutional, because states would not have a compelling reason to continue to use it. But if it’s the latter, then states could probably stick with the old deathly recipe, as long as someone on the execution team had the fortitude, after administering the first drug, to shake the inmate or look in his eyes, or otherwise make a passing attempt to see if the anesthetic took.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Crow's Nest

There is some interesting news here today, at Sex Crimes blog. One is about a sex offender running for the school board. Another is about the unintended but actually rather forseeable effect of California's residency restrictions, which have caused more and more to become homeless and fall off the radar, which makes it harder to keep track of them which defeats the purpose of the law. Go figure.

UPDATE: from Texas

HT: Sex Crimes blog

A Public Defender blog has some good news on the sex offender front from Connecticut. Lawmakers want to streamline the sex offender registry in order to provide more relevant information on those who have the highest risk of re-offending.

The Associated Press is reporting that a federal grand jury is investigating magician David Copperfield because of allegations that he raped and threatened a Washington woman at his Bahamanian estate. TalkLeft also followup has the story.

A new sex offender program run by the Missouri Department of Mental Health has impressive results with treating sex offenders.

And regarding Henry, sorry Habeas, here are a few recent cases from the Circuits:

Reed v. Quarterman, No. 05-70046 (5th. Cir. 10/9/2007) (5th. Cir., 2007) COA
Bower v. Quarterman, No. 03-40980 (5th. Cir. 8/16/2007) (5th. Cir., 2007) IA
Bell v. Miller, No. 05-5235-pr (2nd Cir. 8/31/2007) (2nd Cir., 2007)
Coble v. Quarterman, No. 01-50010 (5th. Cir. 8/14/2007) (5th. Cir., 2007) DP

So, death is different. If/when we move on from dp cases, will it then become more difficult to obtain relief? Technically the standards for relief are identical regardless of the nature of the crime or punishment but, dp cases are litigated to the hilt by law to the chagrin of many, are thus very expensive for society (taxes up?) and soak up resources that should/could be used to litigate other questions. This means that for criminal defendants and petitioners not given the dp it is that much harder (and slower) to have their case heard.

And here is a link to a case in which the philosophical aspects of legal technicalities turns theory into practice, Danforth. As we all wait with abated breath for the opinion...breathe, breathe, if you're not breathing it's not yoga folks.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Counsel for the Defense (Yes, We don't just shoot em first)


In what can only be described as the latest ironic twist in the sad and strange tale of military commissions, Administration lawyers today filed a motion to dismiss Omar Khadr’s appeal from a special military appeals court decision allowing military commission proceedings to resume at Guantanamo Bay. Administration lawyers argue, in effect, that the Secretary of Defense lacked the authority to issue a military commission rule giving the defense the same ability as the government to seek review of military appeals court decisions.

The rule in question is part of the so-called Manual for Military Commissions, a set of procedures for military commissions issued by the Secretary of Defense in January of this year. The Manual implements the controversial Military Commissions Act of 2006 (MCA). The government’s filing appears to be an effort to hit the “delete” button on language in Rule for Military Commission 908(c)(3), which gives the defense a coequal right to seek review of decisions by the Court of Military Commission Review. Significantly, the MCA required the Secretary to report the rules to Congress for its review prior to commencement of commission proceedings. The Administration filing could be viewed, in effect, as an attempt to change those rules without proper notification of Congress.

Moreover, the government’s position is particularly ironic in light of positions taken before the Court of Military Commission Review in this very case. There, the government argued that the Secretary of Defense had broad authority to issue rules implementing the MCA and another federal statute giving the Secretary the power to delegate his responsibilities to subordinate DoD officials.

The position reflected in the government’s filing is, to say the least, odd coming from an Administration that has arguably made the most expansive claims for executive power in U.S. history. Indeed, the Administration has contended that the President can vary the meaning of federal statutes through so-called “signing statements,” and can ignore federal statutes that, in the Administration’s view, infringe on the President’s powers as Commander-in-Chief. Yet, in the Administration’s view, the responsible executive branch official in this case apparently lacks the authority to interpret the MCA in a way to make the commissions process slightly fairer to the accused. One wonders how they can even make the argument with a straight face.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Mukasey for AG -- NOT

Mukasey's weaseling on water-boarding was unworthy of him. Perhaps feeling pressure from his White House sponsors, he cast himself last week as little more than Torture Boy in long pants. His refusal to call water-boarding torture delighted the White House. His suggestion that he really wasn't familiar with the particulars of the technique was laughable. By now, no literate American adult is unfamiliar with this charming form of interrogation by near-drowning, which makes the claim even more absurd coming from a retired New York federal judge whose main claim to fame is presiding over difficult terrorism trials. Mukasey's response that "if water-boarding is torture, torture is not constitutional" was a transparent evasion. And the entire exchange throws a more sinister light on his borrowed quip that the infamous Gonzales-sponsored torture memo "was worse than a sin, it was a mistake. It was unnecessary." One now fears that Mukasey doesn't so much disagree with the substance of that memo, as he thinks that writing it down was a political error.

ouch. Read more from Prof. Bowman at Slate.

October - November News


The Legal Monthly

Vol. 2 No. 8 Read Z the Blog at Oct/Nov. '07

The Uniquely Gregarious Source Of Legal News And “Divers” Contrary Information


The Costs of Justice

First Take TNR

JEC Rap Sheet

Dworkin: “The Supreme Court Phalanx”

Scotus Focus

A Prediction

A Cute, if Sardonic, Irony

Human Rights Watch Report



Oral argument

Sex Offender Residency Restrictions


Read the rest at the Newsletter site.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Change or No Change? Big Money and Moray Hinge on This

Supreme Court’s agreement on Sept. 25 in Baze v Rees to rule on the constitutionality of the lethal injection method, and the Court’s order on Wednesday to postpone a scheduled execution in Virginia (Emmett v. Johnson).

Read the rest Here

Where's the Good Life Gone?

Hmmm. Here's Judith Warner at NYT:
newest set of poll results showing Clinton’s surprising levels of popularity among lower- and middle-class women, white moderate women, even black voters, was another story this week, based on a new set of data from the I.R.S.

It showed that America’s most wealthy earn an even greater share of the nation’s income than they did in 2000, at the peak of the tech boom. The wealthiest 1 percent of Americans, the Wall Street Journal reported, earned 21.2 percent of all income in 2005 (the latest date for which these data are available), up from the high of 20.8 percent they’d reached in the bull market of 2000. The bottom 50 percent of people earned 12.8 percent of all income, compared with 13 percent in 2000. And the median tax filer’s income fell 2 percent when adjusted for inflation (to about $31,000) between 2000 and 2005.

More and more people are being priced out of a middle class existence.

Friday, October 05, 2007

More Key Points

* The United States has the highest reported incarceration rate in the world. While the United States currently incarcerates 750 inmates per 100,000 persons, the world average rate is 166 per 100,000 persons. Russia, the country with the second highest incarceration rate, imprisons 624 per 100,000 persons. Compared to its democratic, advanced market economy counterparts, the United States has more people in prison by several orders of magnitude. Although crime rates have decreased since 1990, the rate of imprisonment has continued to increase.

* Growth in the prison population is due to changing policy, not increased crime. Many criminal justice experts have found that the increase in the incarceration rate is the product of changes in penal policy and practice, not changes in crime rates. Changes in sentencing, both in terms of time served and the range of offenses meriting incarceration, underlie the growth in the prison population.

* Changes in drug policy have had the single greatest impact on criminal justice policy. The Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1986 created mandatory minimum sentences for possession of specific amounts of cocaine. The Act instituted a 100-to-1 differential in the treatment of powder and crack cocaine, treating possession of 5 grams of crack cocaine the same as possession of 500 grams of powder cocaine. Crack cocaine is typically consumed by the poor, while powder cocaine, a significantly more expensive drug, is consumed by wealthier users. Mandatory minimum sentences for low-level crack-cocaine users are comparable (and harsher in certain cases) to sentences for major drug dealers.

* The composition of prison admissions has also shifted toward less serious offenses, characterized by parole violations and drug offenses. In 2005, four out of five drug arrests were for possession and one out of five were for sales. The crime history for three-quarters of drug offenders in state prisons involved non-violent or drug offenses.

* The prison system has a disproportionate impact on minority communities. African Americans, who make-up 12.4 percent of the population, represent more than half of all prison inmates, compared to one-third twenty years ago. Although African Americans constitute 14 percent of regular drug users, they are 37 percent of those arrested for drug offenses, and 56 percent of persons in state prisons for drug crimes. African Americans serve nearly as much time in federal prisons for drug offenses as whites do for violent crimes.

* The U.S. prison system has enormous economic costs associated with prison construction and operation, productivity losses, and wage effects. In 2006, states spent an estimated $2 billion on prison construction, three times the amount they were spending fifteen years earlier. The combined expenditures of local governments, state governments, and the federal government for law enforcement and corrections total over $200 billion annually. In addition to these costs, the incarceration rate has significant costs associated with the productivity of both prisoners and ex-offenders. The economic output of prisoners is mostly lost to society while they are imprisoned. Negative productivity effects continue after release. This wage penalty grows with time, as previous imprisonment can reduce the wage growth of young men by some 30 percent.

* Prisons are housing many of the nation’s mentally ill. Prisons are absorbing the cost of housing the nation’s mentally ill. The number of mentally ill in prison is nearly five times the number in inpatient mental hospitals. Large numbers of mentally ill inmates, as well as inmates with HIV, tuberculosis, and hepatitis also raise serious questions regarding the costs and distribution of health care resources.

* The United States faces enormous problems of offender reentry and recidivism. The number of ex-offenders reentering their communities has increased fourfold in the past two decades. On average, however, two out of every three released prisoners will be rearrested and one in two will return to prison within three years of release.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

The Costs of Justice, American Style

POPULATION AND POSSIBLE SOLUTIONS Hearing on Costs of Mass Incarceration Called by VA Sen. Webb in Light of 500 Percent Increase in Prison Populations In Last 30 Years Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Jim Webb (D-VA) will hold a Joint Economic Committee (JEC) hearing to explore the economic consequences and causes of and solutions to the steep increase of the U.S. prison population. The hearing entitled, “Mass Incarceration in the United States: At What Cost?” is scheduled for Thursday, October 4, 2007 at 10:00am in Room 216 of the Hart Senate Office Building. The United States has 25 percent of the world’s prisoners,despite having only 5 percent of the world’s population. The JEC will examine why the United States has such a disproportionate share of the world’s prison population, as well as ways to address this issue that responsibly balance public safety and the high social and economic costs of imprisonment.

Expert witnesses have been asked to discuss the costs of maintaining a large prison system; the long-term labor market and social consequences of mass incarceration; whether the increase in the prison population correlates with decreases in crime; and what alternative sentencing strategies and post-prison re-entry programs have been most successful at reducing incarceration rates in states and local communities.
WHAT: Joint Economic Committee Hearing:

“Mass Incarceration in the United States: At What Cost?”
WHEN: Thursday, October 4, 2007 – 10:00am
WHERE: 216 Hart Senate Office Building
Witnesses (as of September 27):

• Dr. Glenn Loury, Economics and Social Sciences Professor, Brown University
• Dr. Bruce Western, Director Inequality and Social Policy Program, Harvard University
• Alphonso Albert, Executive Director, Second Chances
• Michael Jacobson, Executive Director, Vera Institute for Justice
The Joint Economic Committee, established under the Employment Act of 1946, was created by Congress to review
economic conditions and to analyze the effectiveness of economic policy.
# # #

Dworkin On the Court

Not last nor least, here's Ronald Dworkin (beating - not bleating) about the bleeding Supreme Court:
(appearing here)

The Supreme Court Phalanx

By Ronald Dworkin

Anthony Kennedy
(click for larger image)
Anthony Kennedy by David Levine


The revolution that many commentators predicted when President Bush appointed two ultra-right-wing Supreme Court justices is proceeding with breathtaking impatience, and it is a revolution Jacobin in its disdain for tradition and precedent. Bush's choices, Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito, have joined the two previously most right-wing justices, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, in an unbreakable phalanx bent on remaking constitutional law by overruling, most often by stealth, the central constitutional doctrines that generations of past justices, conservative as well as liberal, had constructed.

These doctrines aimed at reducing racial isolation and division, recapturing democracy from big money, establishing reasonable dimensions for freedom of conscience and speech, protecting a woman's right to abortion while recognizing social concerns about how that right is exercised, and establishing a criminal process that is fair as well as effective. The rush of 5–4 decisions at the end of the Court's term undermined the principled base of much of this carefully established doctrine. As Justice Stephen Breyer declared, in a rare lament from the bench, "It is not often in the law that so few have so quickly changed so much."

It would be a mistake to suppose that this right-wing phalanx is guided in its zeal by some very conservative judicial or political ideology of principle. It seems guided by no judicial or political principle at all, but only by partisan, cultural, and perhaps religious allegiance. It urges judicial restraint and deference to legislatures when these bodies pass measures that political conservatives favor, like bans on particular medical techniques in abortion. But the right-wing coalition abandons restraint when it strikes down legislation that conservatives oppose, like regulations on political advertising and modest school district programs to further racial integration in public education. It claims to celebrate free speech when it declares that Congress cannot prevent rich corporations and unions from evading restrictions on political contributions. But it subordinates free speech to other policies when it holds that schools can punish students for displaying ambiguous but not disruptive slogans at school events. Lawyers have long been fond of saying, quoting Mr. Dooley, that the Supreme Court follows the election returns.[1] These four justices seem to follow Fox News instead.

They need a fifth vote to win the day in particular cases, and they most often persuade Justice Anthony Kennedy to join them. Kennedy has taken Sandra Day O'Connor's place as the swing vote on the Court. Twenty-four cases—a third of the Court's decisions—were decided by 5–4 votes last term, nineteen of them on a strict ideological division. Kennedy voted on the winning side in all twenty-four of them. He joined with the right-wing justices in thirteen of the ideological cases; he voted against them and with the four more liberal justices—John Paul Stevens, David Souter, Ruth Ginsburg, and Breyer— in the remaining six cases, including four death penalty appeals from Texas. He showed deplorable partisanship when he voted with the majority in the Court's intellectually disreputable 2000 decision to elect Bush president.[2] He wrote a poor and insensitive majority opinion this year in the Court's so-called partial-birth abortion case. (I discussed his opinion in these pages earlier this year.)[3]

But in 1992 Kennedy joined O'Connor and Souter in the key opinion upholding abortion rights in principle and providing a firmer constitutional basis for them,[4] and in 2003 he wrote a strong opinion for a 6–3 majority, relying on that earlier abortion decision, ruling that states cannot make homosexual acts criminal.[5] He therefore offers hope—slim, but real—of some moderating influence on the Jacobins; lawyers who argue important cases before the Court in the next few years will presumably frame their arguments to convince him.


These are strong claims about the revolutionary character and poor legal quality of many of the Court's 5–4 decisions, and it is necessary to review these decisions with some care, in the remainder of this essay, to explain and defend those claims. The most important decision was the Court's 5–4 ruling striking down school student assignment plans adopted by Seattle and Louisville. . . . ****

N.b. Commentary to follow

Monday, October 01, 2007

Front and Center at the Supreme Court

A 2006 law, passed by Congress and signed by Mr Bush prohibits Guantanamo Bay detainees from challenging their confinement in federal courts and states their cases can only be heard by military commissions, not civilian courts.

This term, Supreme Court justices will decide whether in doing so, the law has violated the constitutional requirement to provide habeas corpus - a procedure under which someone who holds a prisoner is required to show reason why to a court - to prisoners in the US.

The US Appeals Court for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled that habeas corpus does not apply to foreign nationals being held at Guantanamo Bay because it is not US soil.

Professor AE Dick Howard, of the University of Virginia School of Law, said the Guantanamo cases would be "front and centre" of the new session.

Laura Smith-Spark
BBC News, Washington

Nb. If the detainees "win" is that a conserative or liberal outcome? Hint: is the Constitutional right to habeas corpus a conservative or liberal notion? Hint 2: Is supporting tyranny conservative or liberal?

Check these for more previews: Adler

Wittes: "it made fools of those of us who believe in it as something more elevated: an institution that aspires to rule based on principle. It was depressing, and the most depressing part is that sinking feeling that the justices will do the same thing again beginning today."

Thursday, September 20, 2007

A Prediction by Tom Goldstein

Direct and unalloyed from Scotusblog:

Because the public's interest in the Court is notoriously weak and its memory short, the relevant question in deciding whether the Court can be a mobilizing force in the 2008 election for ideological groups is therefore not "how were cases decided in OT2006" (the focus of commentary so far), but instead "how will OT2007's cases be decided?" And I think that the existing and anticipated docket strongly suggests that, during OT2007, the outcomes of the highest-profile cases will be perceived as quite liberal.

As a consequence, I think it is exceptionally unlikely that next Term will end as this one did, with front-page stories and reports leading the evening news describing the Court as profoundly conservative, with laudatory commentary by the right and howls of protest from the left. Instead, we will see (mistaken) talk of the "surprising" tack by the Court back to the left and (among the legal glitterati) the "good Kennedy, bad Kennedy" phenomenon in which his ideological views seemingly oscillate dramatically from Term to Term. In fact, this commentary will be wrong: the Justices and their views will be exactly the same come June 2008; it is the cases that will be different.

Equally or more important when considering the potential electoral consequences of the Term, the leading cases will be ones in which the more liberal position is distinctly - even profoundly - unpopular with conservatives, creating the prospect that the Court will serve as a rallying cry to mobilize the electorate. Even if the left ultimately does not win all of the five most significant cases of this Supreme Court Term, that wing of the Court will carry the banner for accused terrorists, crack dealers, child pornographers, child rapists, and those who want to forbid gun possession.

First, consider the existing docket. The most prominent decision, by far, will come in the cases brought by detainees held at Guantanamo Bay as accused terrorists (see, for example, Lyle's post here). The conventional wisdom is that the detainees will win. I agree.

The next-highest-profile case involves the crack-powder disparity in sentencing (Kimbrough v. United States) discussed in this post by Lyle. This is something of a "throwback" case; crack is not as prominent an issue as it once was. Nonetheless, it is one with which the public is familiar. The particular question presented is whether, in the wake of the holding of Booker v. United States (opinion here) that the Sentencing Guidelines are advisory rather than mandatory, district judges can refuse to follow the crack Sentencing Guideline (which imposes a 100:1 ratio to cocaine sentences by weight) on the ground that they disagree with the policy judgment underlying it. I think that the government is overwhelmingly likely to lose.

A third significant and publicly accessible case involves the constitutionality of a particular federal regulation of child pornography (United States v. Williams) (Lyle's post here). The PROTECT Act makes it a crime to distribute something in a manner that shows you believe, or causes someone else to believe, it constitutes child pornography. The case is a successor to Ashcroft v. Free Speech Coalition (opinion here), which invalidated as overbroad in violation of the First Amendment a prior statutory provision making it a crime to possess images that "appear to be" or "convey the impression" that they are child pornography. The new statute focused on the act of pandering the material, rather than its possession. A panel of the court of appeals held that the Supreme Court would not find the change significant enough to save the statute. I agree, though the question is difficult and likely to be close. The Free Speech Coalition majority was fairly sweeping on this point (the Court divided seven to two). In particular, Justice Kennedy's opinion for the five-Justice majority (himself and the left) indicated that this type of fix would be insufficient because it would still make unlawful the distribution of material that is not in fact pornographic.

So, in the three most significant cases of the Term granted thus far, the position of the Court's more liberal members will be (in the caricature that comes with much popular reporting on the Court) that accused terrorists deserve more rights, crack dealers deserve lighter sentences, and the First Amendment protects would-be distributors of child porn.

But Tom, in Ditech's words "people are smart" -- I think we're beginning to see through the right-wing "conservative philosophy" yoyo bullshit, don't you? The argument is that people are stupid. I respectfully disagree.

Monday, September 17, 2007

A Cute, if Sardonic, Irony

RATS in robes

sardonic "Like sarcastic, but more in order to cause amusement than insult"

I know, relative to the other Supremes, Roberts is comparatively young, but at 52 years, "young man" seemed a stretch. But like everything else with the Supremes, it's all relative, right? Relative conservatives, relative liberals, relative moderates, relative reactionaries? Well, no -- the latter are pretty clear, the RATS of this court: Roberts, Alito, Thomas, and Scalia -- they're sure to surprise people, if only by how far they'll go to bat for a Republican president. I have no doubt that, should the Democrats actually win the White House in 2008, the RATS will work hard to oppose that new president; they know which party they represent. Rehnquist certainly set that mold for them, and Roberts will follow it. Their creed:

concentrated Republican executive power good,

unchecked corporate power good,

environmental law/regulation bad,

human rights bad,

property rights good,

free speech bad,

economic speech good (e.g., being able to pay for the privilege of said "free" speech, like campaign donors)

That's a pretty reliable barometer of their approach, and I doubt they'll stray from the script much, unless a Democrat wins in '08, then they might oppose concentrated, unchecked executive Democratic power. But we'll see; they might, in principle, maintain that in hopes that the GOP is able to seize power again.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

The Crow's Nest

A new report from Human Rights Watch on laws, registries and restrictions for sex offenders:
Laws aimed at people convicted of sex offenses may not protect children from sex crimes but do lead to harassment, ostracism and even violence against former offenders, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. Human Rights Watch urges the reform of state and federal registration and community notification laws, and the elimination of residency restrictions, because they violate basic rights of former offenders. The 146-page report, “No Easy Answers: Sex Offender Laws in the United States,” is the first comprehensive study of US sex offender policies, their public safety impact, and the effect they have on former offenders and their families. During two years of investigation for this report, Human Rights Watch researchers conducted over 200 interviews with victims of sexual violence and their relatives, former offenders, law enforcement and government officials, treatment providers, researchers, and child safety advocates.
Here, at my newsletter, read more on that: (Source:
Just as Ohio has toughened its sex offender registration system, evidence is building that registration causes more problems than it solves.

There is no empirical evidence that proves sex offender registries do what they're supposed to do -- keep children safe. The U.S. Justice Department is now commissioning and funding studies looking at the effectiveness of registries, Singleton says. But the evidence so far is troubling, according to Jill S. Levenson, southern regional coordinator for the Center for Offender Rehabilitation and Education and a board member of the Ohio Chapter of the Association for the Treatment of Sexual Abusers. "There is a growing body of research that documents what we call collateral consequences of registration and notification; in other words, the kind of unintended consequences of these laws that disrupt stability and interfere with the ability of these offenders to reintegrate and create law-abiding constructive lives for themselves," Levenson says. "Criminals who are placed back in the community need jobs, and they need a place to live. People aren't very sympathetic to that. But the reality is that we know that the factors that are ... associated with a good community adjustment and less recidivism in the future -- desistance from crime -- are stability in housing, social support and employment. These laws contradict what the research tells us about the environmental conditions that lead to the desistance of crime.

Also missing from the law is a mandate to educate the public -- practical information to help people avoid and survive any kind of attack or information to help eliminate myths and misconceptions about sex offenders.

"Sex offenses and sex offenders fall into a really broad range," Levenson says. "Everybody who is convicted of drunk driving is not an alcoholic. Everyone who is convicted of a sex offense is not a sexual predator."

Friday, September 07, 2007

Retroactivity: A Good Thing? But Don't Ask Martha. And A Sidenote on National Security Policy

Links to briefs in Danforth v. Minnesota (06-8273) -- a case examining state courts' authority to expand retroactivity of Supreme Court criminal procedure rulings -- which is scheduled for argument on October 31:

Click here to read the petitioner's brief, filed by the Minnesota Public Defender's office, and here to read the respondent's brief.

Click here and here for amicus briefs from the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers in support of the petitioner; here for an amicus brief from Alaska and ten other states in support of the respondent; and here for an amicus brief from Kansas in support of neither party. Hat tip to Doug, at S, L & P.


Here, also at SCOTUSBLOG, read about how the revelation of our program of kidnapping and torture presents a "grave risk of injury to national security" (quote from the government's brief in opposition for writ in the Supreme Court: El-Masri v. Tenet, 437 F.Supp.2d 530, 541 (E.D.Va.2006) and El-Masri v. U.S., 479 F.3d 296 (4th Cir., 2007)).

I should think so. If true, and even if not, the allegation alone, rumor only perhaps, presents untold harm to the reputation and moral standing of the United States among the community of nations.

Cover that up, and bring lots of dirt to do it with. That's mud, as in "dragging through the mud" -- as in the reputation of the former AG, whose worst day was "better" than his own father's best day. I'm so glad I'm not his dad. Aren't you?

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Sentence in Fourth Circuit Affirmed

Here's the Fourth Cir. affirming over dissent by Judge Gregory the lower court's denial of motion to withdraw plea after having conditionally accepted same pending receipt of presentencing report, and challenge to the 120 month sentence for possession of firearm. United States v. Battle (Sep 5). And,

Retroactive restrictions are unfair and violate the Constitution. Hat tip --

- this link is just in from Ohio (district court presumably): (AP, WDTN - Dayton) - and more on that here.

A federal judge in Akron has ruled in favor a sex offender in a residency case.

Lane Mikaloff filed a lawsuit after he was ordered out of his home because he lives too close to a school.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Connecticut Criminal Sanctions Strong Enough

Three members of a prominent Cheshire, Conn., family were slain in their home in July after being held hostage for hours. The gruesome murders, and the arrests of two career criminals out on parole for the crime, have left Connecticut residents justifiably outraged. More than 42,000 people have signed an online petition advocating that their state pass a “three strikes and you’re out” law to force judges to impose lengthy sentences on criminals convicted of three felonies. That is the wrong solution, for Connecticut or any state. Source: New York Times

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Taking Care of Business

Nan Aron cuts through the slimy lens of Republican (right wing? "conservative"? ) spin to show how that party's philosophy translates into actual practice. More tax cuts anybody? [N.B. Mr. Lee Iacoca says he'll give his tax cut back; well, only that he doesn't need it] :

The Post is wrong. Why are so many unions opposed to Southwick? Because Southwick voted against the interests of injured workers and consumers in divided decisions 89 percent of the time. Why are civil rights groups opposed? Because he also voted overwhelmingly -- 54 of 59 times -- against defendants alleging juror discrimination. That prompted his own colleagues on the Mississippi Court of Appeals to accuse him of "establishing one level of obligation for the State, and a higher one for defendants on an identical issue." Southwick, they charged in a dissent, placed his "stamp of approval on the arbitrary and capricious selection of jurors."

Southwick got achance to explain these decisions. Sen. Richard Durbin asked Southwick whether he could think of one example of an unpopular decision he had made in favor of the powerless, the poor, minorities or the dispossessed. The judge said he could not.

The opposition doesn't stem from anecdote but analysis, analysis that reveals overwhelmingly one-sided patterns. The Post said that opponents of Southwick "haven't made their case." But this argument doesn't reflect the most substantive points that opponents raise.

A nominee's record is the best predictor of what he or she will do on the bench. Southwick's record predicts that those in the 5th Circuit's jurisdiction have much to fear regarding their legal rights and protections. Moreover -- and overlooked by The Post -- the patterns in Southwick's record fit this administration's pattern of behavior. For with the assistance of conservative activists, allies in the Senate and in well-funded interest groups, and the amen chorus of commentators such as Will, George W. Bush has appointed a succession of appellate judges who will serve his administration's ideological agenda long after he has left office.

We cannot let this administration pack our courts with judges who share its disrespect for law and lack of compassion for the powerless. These nominees have turned their backs on our most fundamental rights and freedoms. The Senate should turn its collective back on Leslie Southwick and those like him.

WHEW! I LIKE IT. YOU GO, GIRL. Aron is president ofAlliance for Justice, an association of liberal advocacy organizations.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Ode to US (two)

Interesting, just as I was comparing notes, specifically on adjectives to describe the United States now, versus then perhaps, I came upon this:
Harold Nicolson wrote this condescending characterization of the United States (“a giant with the limbs of an undergraduate, the emotions of a spinster, and the brain of a pea-hen”) -- it now reads like postimperial sour grapes.

The United States in 1945 was a giant, all right, but with the wealth of a Harriman, the altruism of a Marshall, and the sheer dedication of men like Clayton, Vandenberg, Hoffman, and Bissell, it was surely a benign colossus.
Niall Ferguson -- New Yorker Magazine

PS. Do Republicans do more "mortality exercizes"? Or are they just more susceptible to subliminal messages about death? Learn more about "mortality salience" here, from Judis, "Death Grip"at The New Republic.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Where Is "The Center?" (Political Center)

True or False? Source.

By early 2006, so-called centrism had offered up Iraq, a tax regime that puts the burden on the middle class, bankruptcy reform that gave away the farm to irresponsible credit card companies, an outdated physical infrastructure, legalized torture and a crippled disaster-response effort in New Orleans. The American people, infinitely smarter than Washington insiders, had had enough. Unapologetic, muscular Democrats swept into office in dramatic numbers in state and local races nationwide.

A new day is dawning for the progressive movement. The distrust between Net-roots activists and more traditional progressive players in the party establishment and issue groups has given way to respectful cooperation as we all adjust to new technologies and the promise they hold for institutional change.

Last week, at the YearlyKos convention, all these players came together to celebrate our newfound unity and to organize for the coming battles in 2008 and beyond. The DLC was nowhere to be found -- unless you looked in Nashville, where its members continued to preach, in empty halls, about the "vital center." Even the Democratic presidential candidates have figured out where the heart of the party now lies: with the new, unashamedly progressive movement.

The DLC had two decades to make its case, to build an audience and community, to elect leaders the American people wanted. It failed.

Susan Gardner is a contributing editor to and holds a fellowship with the Web site Daily Kos. Markos Moulitsas is founder of Daily Kos.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Taking Stock of SCOTUS

A new poll: source

About half of the public thinks the Supreme Court is generally balanced in its decisions, but a growing number of Americans say the court has become "too conservative" in the two years since President Bush began nominating justices, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

Nearly a third of the public -- 31 percent -- thought the court is too far to the right, a noticeable (12 point) jump since the question was last asked in July 2005. That's when Bush nominated John G. Roberts Jr. to the court and, in the six-month period that followed, the Senate approved Roberts as chief justice and confirmed Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr.

WONDER OF WONDERS, people are starting to notice and none too soon. In fact, it did not take very long at all. The thirty or so percent who think the Court is now "too conservative" probably overlaps with the fraction who are likely paying attention. Less than half of respondents thought the Court was "generally balanced" (47 % -- a drop of 8 points from before). Really, nobody pays any attention to the Court, or do they?

And there's this, concerning equal pay for women, horror of horrors! ! ! Backed only by Democrats under peril of a mightily under-employed Presidential VETO! Who else would like to know what Laura thinks about that???

Saturday, July 14, 2007


Prof. Sunstein, Open University:

In short, the conservative refashioning of the Court has radically changed the terms of legal and political discourse. On the Supreme Court, what was once centrist is now left-wing. What was once conservative is now centrist. What was once on the extreme right--so extreme that it was not represented on the Court at all--is now merely conservative (Scalia and Thomas). What was once on the left no longer exists (Brennan and Marshall, often joined by Blackmun).

By drawing attention to these changes, I do not mean to suggest agreement with the liberals of the Court's past. In my view, the Court does best if it proceeds incrementally and with respect for the elected branches of government. But public discussion has been badly distorted by a failure to see exactly how much has happened in the last decades. Indeed, this particular revolution has been so unusual, and so stunningly successful, precisely because so few people have even noticed it.


Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Crow's Nest: Iraq

Whooops! Does anybody see the draft coming?
In nine months, when the surge has totally failed and only made the hornet's nest of the Middle East Region (Iraq) into the eye of a full-blown hurricane
Then, will we see the need for a draft?
Or, ...
When the next POTUS is a Dem,
Will we hang with her as we try to fix something that was not in need of repair until the Rep took control?

In case you were wondering, this is just bananas compared to the next war, in which Iraq is just the opening gambit. Can we stop it now before it gets out of control?

Only the war machine, that we used to call the Military Industrial Complex, and the stockholders therein are, and will be beneficiaries of this ongoing Third World War. So Sorry Charlie, that the Constitution has been shredded.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Crow's Nest:: Sentencing Developments

Though surely authored before Rita, the Fifth Circuit yesterday released US v. Walters, No. 05-51634 (5th Cir. June 21, 2007) (available here) reversing an above-guideline sentence because "the degree of departure in this case is substantial, and there must be more than mere lip service to the § 3553(a) factors to justify such a departure," and "the court did not adequately articulate reasons consistent with the sentencing factors to support the reasonableness of this sentence." (June 22, SL&P)

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Actuarial Peril at Court

Moving with great swiftness, by the stately standards of the Court, Roberts, Alito, and their allies have already made progress on that agenda. In Alito’s first major opinion as a justice, earlier this year, he sharply restricted the ability of victims of employment discrimination to file lawsuits. The Court said that plaintiffs in such cases must bring their suits within a hundred and eighty days of, say, an unfair raise. But, because it generally takes employees longer than that to establish that they have been cheated, the effect of the ruling will be to foreclose many lawsuits. In a similar vein, the Court upheld a death sentence in Washington by lessening the scrutiny applied to jury selection in such cases. Last week, the justices rejected an appeal by a prisoner who had filed his case before a deadline set by a federal district judge. Because the judge had misread the law and given the prisoner too much time—three extra days—the Court said that the case had to be thrown out.

Most notoriously, the Court, for the first time in its history, upheld a categorical ban on an abortion procedure. The case dealt with so-called partial-birth abortion—a procedure performed rarely, often when there are extraordinary risks to the mother, the fetus, or both. But more important than the ruling were the implications of Justice Anthony M. Kennedy’s opinion. The Court all but abandoned the reasoning of Roe v. Wade (and its reaffirmation in the 1992 Casey decision) and adopted instead the assumptions and the rhetoric of the anti-abortion movement. To the Court, it was the partial-birth-abortion procedure, not the risks posed to the women who seek it, that was “laden with the power to devalue human life.” In the most startling passage in the opinion, Kennedy wrote, “While we find no reliable data to measure the phenomenon, it seems unexceptionable to conclude some women come to regret their choice to abort the infant life they once created and sustained.” Small wonder that Kennedy’s search for such data was unavailing; notwithstanding the claims of the anti-abortion movement, no intellectually respectable support exists for this patronizing notion. The decision to have an abortion is never a simple one, but until this year the Court has said that the women affected, not the state, had the last word.

All these conservative victories were decided by votes of five to four, with Kennedy joining Roberts, Alito, Antonin Scalia, and Clarence Thomas to form the majority. (The last big case outstanding this term is a challenge to school-desegregation plans in Louisville and Seattle. Based on the oral argument, Kennedy appears likely to join the same quartet in striking down the plans.) Kennedy holds the balance of power in the Roberts Court, much the way Sandra Day O’Connor did in the Rehnquist years. Kennedy is more conservative than O’Connor, so the Court is, too. He sided with the liberals in only one important case this year, when the Court ruled that the gases that cause global warming are pollutants under the Clean Air Act, a ruling that repudiated the Bush Administration’s narrow view of the law.


At this moment, the liberals face not only jurisprudential but actuarial peril. Stevens is eighty-seven and Ginsburg seventy-four; Roberts, Thomas, and Alito are in their fifties. The Court, no less than the Presidency, will be on the ballot next November, and a wise electorate will vote accordingly.

Jeffrey Toobin

Saturday, June 16, 2007

DNA Evidence Was "Massaged"

The final HPD lab report

The final report on the problems with the HPD Crime Lab and what needs to be done about it has been released. (Talk about the letting the Wolf tend to the Sheep: Not speaking of Bromwich of course, but of powers that be in Houston--read on)

Independent investigator Michael Bromwich outlined a series of steps he said officials should take to determine what role blood-typing and DNA evidence played in securing convictions against as many as 600 defendants -- including 14 already executed -- whose cases were processed at the Houston Police Department's crime lab between 1980 and 2002.

Police Chief Harold Hurtt, Mayor Bill White and Harris County District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal agreed that hundreds of cases will require further scrutiny and possibly new testing, but they rejected Bromwich's suggestion that a "special master" be appointed to oversee the process.

"We are committed to having a crime lab that the public and the criminal justice system can have confidence in," Hurtt said. "But we feel very strongly that ... we can accomplish what needs to be done without a special master."

Bromwich's recommendations were made in the final report on his sweeping $5.3 million investigation of the lab, where bad management, undertrained staff and inaccurate work -- first exposed 4 1/2 years ago -- has cast doubt on thousands of convictions and unsettled the criminal justice system in Houston and beyond.


Police and prosecutors already have begun their review, Hurtt said, adding that, in the absence of a "special master," the committee of community representatives that oversaw Bromwich's investigation, known as the stakeholder committee, will check on their progress.

The committee's presence, coupled with assistance from nonprofits such as the Innocence Project to represent defendants' interests, eliminates the need for an independent supervisor of the serology review, Hurtt said. Bromwich said the chief's plan could be an acceptable solution.

Barry Scheck, a founder of the Innocence Project, said his group will help but that a special master would be more effective.

"There is no other way to get to the heart of it," he said. "Obviously (we) will provide help, but it's just too hard."

Each questionable serology case will get the scrutiny needed, Rosenthal said.

"We are going to start notifying defendants through the courts that there's a possibility that something was done incorrectly in their cases," he said, "and we'll let the courts resolve that."

While the stakeholder committee could work, as Bromwich says, I agree with Scheck: It will be more effective with a special master. The simple fact is that however well motivated HPD and the District Attorney's office may be now, there needs to be someone in charge whose interests are independent of theirs. The Chron editorial puts it well:

Local officials understandably want to put the crime lab scandal behind them now that all the lab's divisions have been certified as satisfactory and are processing evidence. However, hundreds of convicts remain in prison, some more than a decade after trials in which evidence presented might have been erroneously tested. Many no longer are represented by lawyers and will need more assistance than a small advocacy group such as the Innocence Project, with limited resources, can swiftly provide.

Hurtt says the judicial system, including police, prosecutors, judge and jury, can bring justice to the inmates who might have been wrongly convicted. That would leave the matter of representing prisoner interests to the police department that made the case against them, the district attorney's office that prosecuted them or a small private group. That model does not guarantee impartial justice.

Bromwich, a former U.S. Justice Department inspector general, won national attention when he investigated problems at the FBI crime lab. At a news conference after the release of his report on Houston's lab, Bromwich agreed that adequate involvement by the stakeholder group could be a substitute for a special master in finishing up the crime lab investigation.

That will put a heavy responsibility on the volunteer, unpaid members to make sure the remaining cases are thoroughly investigated and not swept under the rug in the interest of saving money or jurisdictional expedience.

It's not that it's impossible for this to work without there being an outsider in charge, as the example of Dallas DA Craig Watkins shows. Of course, Watkins is basically an outsider, just one who has since gotten himself officially embedded. He has a mandate for what he's doing that neither Rosenthal nor Hurtt have. Let's get a special master and get this done. It really is the best way.

Grits has more and more on this. The final report itself is here (PDF).


Friday, June 15, 2007

Justice: Just One Vote Away From!

Here's Doc B:

In this new piece entitled "Low-Profile Supreme Court Case Offers Glimpse of Sharp Divide," Tony Mauro highlights a point that I noticed when reading today's 5-4 decision in Bowles v. Russell: the Justices seem to be deeply divided in nearly all criminal law cases these days. Here's excerpts:

[T]he low-profile case offers as good a glimpse as any into the sharp conservative-liberal divide emerging this term. Convicted Ohio murderer Keith Bowles lost the case on Thursday by a 5-4 vote, because he was two days late in filing a federal habeas appeal back in 2004....

“This court has no authority to create equitable exceptions to jurisdictional requirements,” Justice Clarence Thomas wrote for the majority. Joining him were Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. and Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, and Samuel Alito Jr.

In dissent, Justice David Souter was blunt and unforgiving. “It is intolerable for the judicial system to treat people this way, and there is not even a technical justification for condoning this bait and switch.” He was joined by the other justices in the moderate-liberal bloc: John Paul Stevens, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and Stephen Breyer.

“This is a doctrinal thing that only lawyer geeks and the Supreme Court care about,” says Kevin Russell of Howe & Russell in D.C., who authored a brief in the case on behalf of Bowles for the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. “But you also see more frustration from the liberals on the court who are upset that the rules are changing just because the composition of the court has changed.”

Though I've not formally counted, I believe the vast majority of 5-4 splits this term have been in criminal law cases and most (though not all) have been the same 5-4 composition as Bowles.

As regular readers know well, the traditional divides do not hold to true to form in the Sixth Amendment cases. The deepening divide in other areas just makes more that much more eager — and that much more uncertain — about what to expect in Rita.

And a comment from George (HT SL&P/Berman)

federalist, "suspending" the writ is too mild. This flat out revokes it.

Aaron, that makes some sense. But why no outrage over this in FN 4? Not only the SCOTUS, but a freakin' clerk can suspend/revoke the Great Writ and the government gets off on a technicality.

4The dissent minimizes this argument, stating that the Court under-stood §2101(c) as jurisdictional “in the days when we used the term imprecisely.” Post, at 4, n. 4. The dissent’s apathy is surprising be-cause if our treatment of our own jurisdiction is simply a relic of the old days, it is a relic with severe consequences. Just a few months ago, the Clerk, pursuant to this Court’s Rule 13.2, refused to accept a petitionfor certiorari submitted by Ryan Heath Dickson because it had been filed one day late. In the letter sent to Dickson’s counsel, the Clerk explained that “[w]hen the time to file a petition for a writ of certiorariin a civil case . . . has expired, the Court no longer has the power toreview the petition.” Letter from William K. Suter, Clerk of Court, to Ronald T. Spriggs (Dec. 28, 2006). Dickson was executed on April 26,2007, without any Member of this Court having even seen his petitionfor certiorari. The rejected certiorari petition was Dickson’s first in thisCourt, and one can only speculate as to whether denial of that petitionwould have been a foregone conclusion.

It is near impossible to understand how the government would benefit and the defendant wouldn't if statutes were unable to override the Constitution. United States v. Curry is not a habeas corpus case and no one was imprisoned. No mention of the Great Writ in Scarborough v. Pargoud either. How can those writs equate to the writ of habeas corpus?

The Oxford Companion to the Supreme Court has this:

"Habeas corpus has certain important characteristics. For one thing, there is no statute of limitations regarding access to it, since the right of personal freedom from illegal restraint never lapses. Neither does one failure to secure the writ forbid later application, which means that the usual doctrine regarding the finality of court judgments (res judicata) does not apply to habeas corpus. In recent decisions, the Supreme Court has expressed it disapproval of multiple applications for the writ. Furthermore, unlike other legal actions, a relative or friend may petition for the writ in behalf of a person unable to apply on his or her own behalf. Called "the most important human right in the Constitution," Chief Justice Salmon P. Chase described it in Ex parte Yerger (1868) as "the best and only sufficient defense of personal freedom" (p.95).

What the hell happened? Now even a clerk can write and say you're a day late and a dollar short. No disrespect to any clerks, but there seems to be a great deal of disrespect for the Great Writ.